Online Gaming Strengthens Friendships
While it’s easy to find sensationalized information about the negative effect of a gaming addiction on interpersonal relationships, information about how multiplayer online games can help gamers develop and maintain friendships receives far less attention. The most recent research, however, suggests that people who play online games have just as many friendships (both online and offline) as people who don’t play online games.
As people work together or compete in online games, friendships form naturally between players. Because social bonding isn’t the clear objective of these games, many people actually feel more comfortable interacting with their friends online, even if they have the opportunity to call them directly or hang out with them in real life. For men especially, online gaming is a low-maintenance way to make new friends and strengthen existing friendships.
For Younger Gamers, Online Gaming is a Way to Make Friends
More than 80% of teenagers play multiplayer online games like Fortnite and Minecraft. Because players earn the respect of their peers at least partly by demonstrating competence in the game, these online spaces help teenagers with low social competence (like those who suffer from social anxiety) form relationships. A teenager who struggles to talk with people offline, for example, might find it easy to talk for hours about game strategy with people online.
Some people have developed lifelong friendships and romantic partnerships over multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft. Much of the time, these people met their friend or partner for the first time in the game. More than 50% of teenagers who play online games sometimes play with people they don’t know outside of the game. By engaging with new people in the game, these teenagers have an opportunity to grow their friend groups.
For Older Gamers, Online Gaming is a Way to Stay in Touch
While older gamers still meet new people online, adults often use online gaming as a way to stay in touch with existing friends, rather than a way to make new friends. When men turn 30, their friend groups often begin to shrink rapidly because, unlike women, they don’t keep in touch with friends by phone. When they play games with these friends, however, many find that the conversation flows naturally.
Many men are averse to participating in activities where the objective is social bonding. In an interview on online gaming for Kotaku, Professor Dmitri Williams says that many men are “pushed farther away from their families’ emotional support and encouraged to be strong and independent.” He sees online gaming as a way that men can bond with each other by “doing stuff together,” which can be less emotionally exhausting than “catching up.”
For many older gamers, playing with friends online is a casual way to escape the emotional isolation that often comes with growing up. For these gamers, playing a game with a friend is more palatable than speaking to that friend on the phone or meeting up with him in real life. If it weren’t for online gaming, many men over 30 would have even smaller friend groups.
Online Games are Made to Be Social
Most online games revolve around multiplayer modes and, therefore, encourage friends to play together. Most gaming consoles–including PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch–let users know when their friends are online. Similarly, online chat platforms like Discord let gamers know which friends are playing which games and which times. By sending a request over Discord, gamers can request to join their friends’ groups in online multiplayer games.